Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking Unveil $100m Voyage to the Stars

Eminent astrophysicist Professor Stephen Hawking has joined forces with science investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner to launch a revolutionary $100m “moonshot” which aims to send a miniature spacecraft hurtling across the galaxy, propelled by lasers. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also joined the board of the organisation, known as Breakthrough Starshot.

“Breakthrough Starshot is a $100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for light-propelled nanocrafts,” the official press release reads. “These could fly at 20 percent of light speed and capture images of possible planets and other scientific data in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, just over 20 years after their launch.”

Breakthrough Starshot aims to send Nanocrafts – tiny robotic spaceships with a gram-scale mass and tiny lightsails, propelled using a 100 billion-watt laser – on a twenty-year journey, at one-fifth the speed of light, 25 trillion miles (4.37 light years) across the Milky Way to the Alpha Centauri star system.

The announcement coincides with the 55th Anniversary of the first orbit of the Earth by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, after whom Milner is named.

“The human story is one of great leaps,” Milner said. “55 years ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Today, we are preparing for the next great leap – to the stars.”

“Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever,” added Stephen Hawking, “Sooner or later, we must look to the stars. Breakthrough Starshot is a very exciting first step on that journey.”

“We take inspiration from Vostok, Voyager, Apollo and the other great missions,” said Pete Worden, former director of NASA AMES Research Center and advisor to Breakthrough Starshot. “It’s time to open the era of interstellar flight, but we need to keep our feet on the ground to achieve this.”

Image courtesy of The Guardian.

Kepler Space Telescope Recovered from Emergency Mode

It was recently reported that the deep space telescope, Kepler had run into trouble and had forced itself to enter its emergency mode. Thankfully the planet-hunting spacecraft has since returned to a stable state.

NASA’s Kepler team engineers were able to direct the communications array aboard the craft towards Earth and have begun the long process of downloading the data that could reveal the cause of the emergency. Due to the spacecraft being 75 million miles from Earth, any signal to and from it takes a whole 13 minutes.

When the telescope was first found to have run into issues late last week, NASA had declared a mission emergency, providing the Kepler team with priority access to the Deep Space Network, which is used to contact distant spacecraft. Due to emergency mode consuming vastly more fuel than normal, restoring Kepler’s functionality was a race against time before it would be unable to complete its mission. Now that Kepler has returned to a stable state, access to the DSN has returned to normal priorities.

Whether Kepler will be returned to “science mode” is yet to be decided by the mission engineers and they are currently performing health checks on all data received from the craft. At the time of failure, the telescope was only 14 hours away from beginning the next section of its ongoing mission, however, the craft has until July 1st to complete this stage, should it be deemed fit to return to full operation.

Planet Hunting Spacecraft Kepler Enters Emergency Mode

NASA engineers have raised a mission emergency in regards to the exoplanet-hunting spacecraft Kepler, which has unexpectedly entered its emergency mode 75 million miles from Earth. This mode is the lowest level of operation for the craft and worryingly, also consumes the most fuel while in it.

The last time that NASA communicated with Kepler was on April 4th, where it was still fully operational and reporting no issues. Despite this, by the 7th, Kepler was reporting that it had been in emergency mode for a day and a half. This is certainly not good but as communication with the spacecraft is still possible, recovery from whatever went wrong may still be possible.

It won’t be easy to get Kepler back on track, though, as due to the enormous distance from Earth, any messages will take a whole 13 minutes in order to reach the craft. In order to have the best chance of getting Kepler back into normal operation, the mission support team have been granted priority access to NASA’s deep space telecommunications system and will provide updates on the craft’s status as it develops.

Kepler is no stranger to technical difficulties and its mission team have proven themselves capable of recovering the craft in the past. In July 2012 and later May 2013, Kepler lost one of its four reaction wheels used to steer the craft. Being down to half of these wheels should have proven fatal to the craft, which required precise directional control to search for planets. Despite this, a workaround using the pressure from the sun was found that allowed Kepler to continue its mission and has operated this way for almost 3 years.

Could Planet Nine Destroy the Earth This Month?

Astronomy circles are all abuzz over speculation that a potential ninth planet – a Jupiter-sized super-planet –has been discovered in our solar system, with some sources reporting that its irregular orbit may have triggered the meteor shower that wiped out the dinosaurs, and may even induce the same level of disaster later this month.

The following report appeared in the New York Post, via a particularly disreputable UK tabloid:

“Planet Nine — a new planet discovered at the edge of the solar system in January — has triggered comet showers that bomb the Earth’s surface, killing all life, says Daniel Whitmire, of the University of Louisiana. The astrophysicist says the planet has a 20,000-year orbit around the sun and, at its closest to us, it knocks asteroids and comets toward Earth.

Fossil evidence has suggested most life on Earth is mysteriously wiped out every 26 million to 27 million years.

Whitmire claims Planet Nine’s passage through a rock-laden area called the Kuiper Belt is responsible for the “extinction events.””

So, could planet nine really destroy the Earth this month? Unlikely. Reports of our imminent destruction have been exaggerated, at worst. Online debunker Snopes contacted Whitmire to verify that the ninth planet poses a danger to our planet. His response? ” No truth to the story at all. That’s quite impossible.”

It seems that Plan(et) Nine From Outer Space won’t be troubling the Earth any time soon. If we really do have a ninth planet again – following the sad demotion of Pluto – we should be far more worried about Mondas

Planet With Three Suns Discovered

Astrophysicists have discovered a distant planet that has not one, not two, but three suns in its sky. While the Jupiter-sized world, named KELT-4Ab, orbits a single star (KELT-A), its system is within close proximity of a binary star, containing KELT-B and KELT-C, which circle each other as part of a larger orbit around KELT-A. Every 4,000 years or so, KELTs A, B, and C fall adjacent to each other and are all visible together in KELT-4Ab’s sky.

The phenomenon was discovered by Research Associate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Jason Eastman, who is the lead author of study on KELT-4Ab, which used the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope – two robotic telescopes in Arizona and South Africa, and the origin of the KELT moniker – to observe the curious planet and stars.

“Those two stars would orbit each other every about 30 years, and every 4,000 years they’d make one orbit around KELT-4A,” Eastman told Space.com.

In addition to its three suns, though, KELT-4Ab is curious for another reason: it is a type of planet known as a “hot Jupiter”, which is a gas giant that is positioned close to a sun, an occurrence that, theoretically, cannot yet be explained.

“Hot Jupiters aren’t supposed to exist. None of them,” Eastman said. “Gaseous planets the size of Jupiter are supposed to form much farther out [from their parent star] and stay there, like our own Jupiter did,” he said. “Exactly how they got so close is an outstanding question, but one theory is that it migrates due to hot interactions with a third body — in this case, the third and fourth bodies KELT-BC.”

The two unusual discoveries – the three stars and the “hot Jupiter – may even be related, according to Eastman. “The binary system KELT-4BC may be what ultimately drove the planet KELT-4Ab so close to its star,” he said.

New Exoplanet Hunting Instrument Being Developed by NASA

NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have recently been constructing a team of astronomers as part of a project to construct a powerful new exoplanet-hunting tool. The selection process involved a national competition, with the team chosen to be led by Penn State University assistant professor Suvrath Mahadevan. The next three years will now be spent developing and constructing the $10 million instrument, named NN-EXPLORE Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler Spectroscopy or NEID for short. NEID, once completed, will then be installed atop the WIYN observatory located at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.

NEID will be the first piece of equipment that will allow astronomers to search for exoplanets from the Earth instead of an orbital telescope. The instrument works by detecting Earth-like planets that orbit stars by measuring the ‘wobble’ of a star, which is often indicative of an orbiting planet and the size of the ‘wobble’ making it possible to determine how big the planet may be. Once these potential exoplanets are discovered, powerful space telescopes can then be committed to the task of searching for these planets in more detail.

The goal of NEID is to assist in finding proof of life on other worlds, which is a discovery that has so far eluded us, should it exist. Whether NEID will help us find the aliens that so many of us hope to find is unknown, but should life exist out there, tools like this make it all the more reasonable that we discover it.

Eve Online Gears up for Biggest War It’s Ever Seen

Players of MMORPG Eve Online might have thought they had witnessed the greatest battle the game had ever seen following 2014’s battle at B-R5RB – a 20-hour firefight, during which 10,000 people vied for victory – which saw The Imperium rise to the prominence it still holds today, but trouble is brewing yet again in New Eden, and when tensions inevitably boil over, the ensuing battle is sure to make the Battle of B-R5RB look like handbags at dawn.

Resentment has been building ever since The Mittani – a prominent member of The Imperium – tried (and failed) to Kickstart a book on the Battle of B-R5RB, which triggered a number of aggressions within the community, and is predicted to end in the most bloody battle ever staged in Eve Online.

Eve Online subreddit user TheRealMartini has written a handy primer on the preamble to war:

  • “CCP [Eve Online’s developer] introduced a new system for capturing sovereignty – The new system now allows guerilla-like tactics to be used. Meaning sovereignty is no longer decided by who brings the biggest ships.”
  • “The Mittani’s failed Kickstarter – The Mittani (leader of The Imperium) attempted to get a book published about The Fountain War. This was met with a huge backlash from the rest of the EVE community, esp, /r/Eve, who felt he was trying to monetize his alliance members. After this, Imperium members were encouraged not to use /r/Eve, thus closing themselves off.”
  • “High Profile Imperium members defect – Not liking the direction the Imperium was taking a number of former high profile FC’s and spies leave the Imperium and join rival alliances.”
  • “The ‘I want isk’ financial backing for war – The Final piece. The website ‘i want isk’ (think Iron bank) begins paying alliances to go to war with the Imperium after coalition member SMA fails to pay a bill and accuses IWI of illegal activity.”

Anti-Imperium rebel group the Moneybadgers has already launched its first successful offensive against The Imperium, but the current dominant force in New Eden is expected to respond in kind. This means war. Get the popcorn.

EVGA Bundles Grey Goo With Select Power Supplies

Getting free games bundles with your graphics card or motherboard isn’t something new, that has been around for quite a while now, but it is a rarity that we also see games being bundled with power supplies. In fact, I can’t remember it happening before myself. However, that is exactly what EVGA has done as the have gone ahead and bundled Grey Goo Definitive Edition with select power supplies.

The game isn’t just bundled with a one or two power supplies, this offer applies to pretty much the entire 80Plus Gold, Platinum, and Titanium rated power supply lineup, as you can see in the list below. Ranging from entry level 550W models all the way up to impressive 1600W models, the offer is made available for most people.

Grey Goo is a real-time strategy (RTS) game that combines classic strategy mechanics and a balanced combat system with an emphasis on large-scale decision-making. It puts you at the centre of a tactical struggle for survival – and ultimately, control of Ecosystem 9.

The game features both a single-player campaign as well as multiplayer action with your friends and enemies. In single player, you have the option to play one of three factions: Humans, Beta, and the Goo. The Humans are the masters of defensive architecture while the Beta only is described as a proud and versatile alien race. The Goo is probably what most people will want to play tho as that is the enigmatic and highly mobile life form made up of, yes you guessed it, grey goo. In the multiplayer part, you also get a fourth faction, the disruptive and unpredictable Shroud.

As always with this kind of offer, there are a few conditions to get the free game. You’ll have to have purchased the power supply on March the 25th, 2016 or later from an authorized reseller. You’ll also need to register the purchased product to get the game key. Once you’ve followed the redeem guide, you’ll get a game code emailed that you then can activate through your Steam app as you most likely have done with so many games before.

All the fine-print and the links to redeem your game can be found on the official mini-site for this Grey Goo offer.

https://youtu.be/iiCe_OdMgDs

Japan Loses Contact with Hitomi Space Telescope

Only a month after the launch of their newest ASTRO-H X-ray telescope, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have reported that contact has been lost with the satellite. Currently, engineers at JAXA are working on reestablishing contact with the telescope but the reason for it going dark is unknown.

The ASTRO-H satellite was launched from Tanegashima Space Centre on the 17th of February and upon successfully achieving orbit, was given the name Hitomi, which means “Eye”. Hitomi seemed to be successfully up and running initially, having passed its system checks and was beginning to deploy equipment. Unfortunately, by the 26th of March, JAXA had reported a communications failure with the satellite, stating only that “While the cause of communication anomaly is under investigation, JAXA received a short signal from the satellite, and is working for recovery.”

“Under this circumstance, JAXA set up emergency headquarters, headed by the President, for recovery and investigation. The headquarters held its first meeting today, inand has been working for recovery and the investigation of the cause.”

According to the US Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), who specialize in tracking large orbital objects, Hitomi broke up partially on the 26th of March, but no further details were given. This could be critical, or simply some of the satellite’s components becoming separated from the main unit.

On the Visual Satellite Observers mailing list, Texan astronomer Paul Maley reported that he had managed to track the telescope a day after contact was lost and recorded that it was spinning in a full rotation every 10 seconds. As the satellite is supposed to be in a stable orbit, this is not a good sign, and the rotation would make the communication array unable to send and receive signals until the orbit is stabilized.

There are a number of possible causes for Hitomi’s current situation, and while none of them are yet confirmed, JAXA is working around the clock to re-establish contact with the telescope and determine the cause of this issue.

NASA to Test Inflatable Living Modules on The ISS

When sending something into space, it is important to consider how big it is. Something large may be useful in space, but it is no good if it can’t be carried up there by rocket after all. Now NASA is hoping to make the best use of the limited space available by testing expandable modules on the ISS in the hopes that they can be used on future missions to Mars as living and working habitats. These inflatable modules will be getting a lift to the ISS as part of SpaceX’s next resupply mission aboard their Dragon cargo capsule.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, once in space, will be attached to the ISS and then filled with air, causing it to inflate from its packed size of just over five feet in-depth and almost eight in diameter to a far roomier 12 feet deep and over 10 feet in diameter, with pressure equalized with the rest of the station. The deployment won’t be quick, however, as it is the first of its kind and very experimental and a slow inflation will allow any faults to be detected before they become critical.

In order to be considered a success and considered for more deep-space missions, the module will first have to survive two years on the ISS. This won’t be easy and will test the module’s resistance to cosmic radiation, durability and long-term resistance to leaking. To get a taste of what the deployment will look like, NASA has released an animation displaying the inflation of the module (but at a much higher speed than reality.)

Image credit to NASA

Astronomers Observe Exploding Star for the First Time

For the first time ever, astronomers have recorded the moment at which a star started to explode – known as the “shock breakout” – within the optical wavelength of NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

The astronomy team, led by Peter Garnavich, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA, monitored the light levels emitted by sources within 500 galaxies – around 500 trillion stars – over a three-year period in order to detect the early signs of a supernova. The observations led to Kepler monitoring two stars in particular – both red supergiants – that were on the verge of exploding. The massive stellar bodies, KSN 2011a and KSN 2011d, were around 1.2 billion light years away.

“To put their size into perspective, Earth’s orbit about our sun would fit comfortably within these colossal stars,” Garnavich explained on the NASA website.

KSN 2011a and KSN 2011d were then observed exploding. While the Type II supernovae of both stars matched known mathematical models of the phenomena, the explosion KSN 2011a was not preceded by the expected shock breakout.

“In order to see something that happens on timescales of minutes, like a shock breakout, you want to have a camera continuously monitoring the sky,” Garnavich said. “You don’t know when a supernova is going to go off, and Kepler’s vigilance allowed us to be a witness as the explosion began.”

The video below shows KSN 2011d exhibiting the shock breakout prior to its supernova:

“That is the puzzle of these results,” Garnavich added. “You look at two supernovae and see two different things. That’s maximum diversity.”

New Horizons Spacecraft Paints a New Picture of Pluto

The dwarf planet on the edge of our Solar System, Pluto, is one of the most enigmatic and unknown to us. Now, a newly published report based on data taken by the New Horizons spacecraft has allowed researchers to get a far clearer picture of the true nature of Pluto.

Pluto’s geology is one of great variety and beauty, including vast crevices, craters and large valleys that stretch across much of its surface. As a contrast to this, there is a 1,000 kilometer long flat plain in the northern hemisphere named the Sputnik Planum. This area is surrounded by enormous icy mountains and large glaciers that flow into the plain. Those studying the plain believe that Pluto’s surface must be constantly reshaping as it is completely unblemished by craters or other features, with Jeffery Moore, a New Horizons co-investigator at NASA Ames Research Center stating that “it can’t possibly be more than 10 million years old; it could also be a day old.” This is before even considering the unusual mountainous protrusions that are believed to be cryo-volcanoes.

Pluto’s atmosphere is also very cold, even colder than researchers believed it would, despite its distance from the sun. Near the surface, the atmosphere is a chilly -233 degrees Celcius, warming to -163 at higher altitudes. The temperature drops off drastically in the upper atmosphere however, with gasses cooling to -202 Celcius. These cold temperatures mean that few gasses escape Pluto’s atmosphere, despite its low gravity, as they are unable to gain the energy to move and end up trapped close to the planet.

This new analysis of the flyby of Pluto that took place in July last year has been published by the journal Science and despite all this new knowledge, there is still so much more to discover. These amazing landscapes also make you wonder just what other unearthly beautiful landscapes exist out there on other bodies in the Solar System. Who knows what else could still be out there?

Images Of Saturn’s Moon Titan Reveal Magic Island

The human race can do amazing things, we’ve discovered how the universe works, figured out the theory of black holes and even set foot on the Moon. With plans ahead to land and even live on Mars, it’s no surprise we are also paying attention to other objects in space. Saturn’s moon, Titan, is one such object.

The surface of Titan is cold, as in around -180ºC. This means that only a few things can be liquid on its surface, and yet thanks to a selection of images that were taken since 2007, we may have an idea of just what happens on its surface.

The “lake” shown in the images, Ligeia, is seen dimming and brightening, the result of what scientists have concluded could be the result of waves at or beneath the surface. The Cassini spacecraft that took the photos will be doing a final run looking for these “magic island”s when it flys by Titan in 2017.

If this wasn’t enough during the 2016 budget, the US Congress created the Ocean Worlds explortation program. With the aim of exploring cold, icy moons of the solar system, the project would see us looking for water on other planets and understanding how it’s interacted with the planet.

The hope is that places like Titan which have the fundamental building blocks of life could be our first chance of seeing “wierd life” in the universe.

Reflective Russian Satellite to be Brightest ‘Star’ in the Sky

When you look up at the night sky, the brightest thing you will see is likely to be the Moon. However, a team of Russian engineers want to ensure that the second brightest object isn’t just any other star billions of miles away, but a man-made object!

After reaching their fundraising goal, the team look to launch a satellite that will have no other purpose than to glow brightly. The object is no bigger than a bread bin, but once it is in orbit, it will open up into a pyramid shape of reflective surfaces. The object will stay in a sun-synchronous orbit of 370 miles above the Earth, ensuring it is always in the sunlight, giving it the ability to outshine any other star in the Sky. Unfortunately for the team, not everyone is happy about their project.

While they hope to inspire that anyone can achieve a goal of doing space-bound projects, by giving people something to wonder about when they look up at the sky as it floats around in space, many scientists are concerned that it will cause too much light pollution. While using telescopes and other technologies to view real stars and other space-bound objects, light pollution is a big problem and effectively turning on a big light up there could hinder some scientific efforts.

“We want to show that space exploration is something exciting and interesting, but most importantly that today it is accessible to everybody who is interested,” said project leader Alexander Shaenko to Sputnik News.

There’s not too much concern, though, as the $20,000 project is only said to last for a few weeks, although if their goal is a success, it could inspire others to do the same in the near future. Personally, I can’t wait to see it, it’s a cool idea and hopefully it will give off the right message and encourage people to look up and wonder about the universe, if only for a moment.

NANOGrav Astronomers Use Pulsars to Spot Gravitational Waves

Earlier this month, the discovery of the gravitational waves shook the scientific community as it confirmed one of Einstein’s theories that it took us a century to develop the technology to prove. Now a team of astronomers known as NANOGrav believe that we can more easily track the effects of these gravitational waves rippling across the Earth using stable pulsar signals. Stephen Taylor from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory believes that “Detecting this signal is possible if we are able to monitor a sufficiently large number of pulsars spread across the sky,” and that “The smoking gun will be seeing the same pattern of deviations in all of them.”

A pulsar is a spinning, highly magnetized neutron star, a remnant left behind after stars go supernova. Some of these neutron stars spin incredibly fast, performing as many as thousands of rotations per second, which send a signal out on each rotation, which can be picked up on Earth. As a result, millisecond pulsars have a predictable arrival time on their signals, with NANOGrav’s instruments able to measure them as precisely as to within a ten-millionth of a second according to NANOGrav’s Maura McLaughlin. “Because of that, we can use them to detect incredibly small shifts in Earth’s position.”

Right now the team is already monitoring 54 pulsars, most of which are in the northern hemisphere of the planet. This has caused NANOGrav to reach out to teams in Australia and around the globe “in order to get the all-sky coverage this search requires,” according to JPL’s Michele Vallisneri. With proper coverage, the team believes that low-frequency gravitational waves could be proven within 10 years, ahead of the 2028 eLISA space mission, which would be capable of detecting the higher frequency waves. We live in an exciting time, and who knows what the myriad efforts of scientists worldwide may discover about the universe we live in next.

Image credit to NASA

Amazing Space Ready 3D Printer Unveiled by NASA

Living in space faces many challenges, such as the availability of critical spare parts. Supply trips to the ISS are somewhat uncommon, so getting a replacement part for a broken piece of equipment is both slow and expensive. NASA’s newest revelation from its research park in Silicon Valley helps to tackle just such a problem, a 3D printer that works in space. Not just a proof of concept either, with it planning to be launched to the ISS on the 23rd of March, where it will be used to build both spare parts and parts for experiments.

This isn’t the first 3D printer to be used in space, a prototype printer had already been trialled by the crew of the ISS previously. This new printer will be more than the previous prototype and, in fact, be a fully operational model for use by ISS crew members.

Andrew Rush, the chief executive of Made In Space, the NASA-funded startup developing the technology stated: “You can bring us a USB stick with your file, and we can digitally send it to space.” “Via 3D printing we can make that object and completely avoid putting it on a rocket.”

This is just the start of space manufacturing too, with Made In Space being given $20 million to work on a project named Archinaut. The system would allow the construction of huge structures in space, manufactured and assembled automatically by robots. Rush believes that Archinaut could construct “giant radio dishes that could service many people, or do amazing science and peer deep into the universe’s past.” The success of this project could revolutionize space construction and say goodbye to the current method of sending “flat packed” structures to space on rockets where they are then unfolded and constructed, allowing structures too fragile to survive the launch to space or other logistically problematic structures.

For now, the ambitions remain small-scale with the 3D printer, however, far more exciting things are in the near future. Made In Space estimate it will be 3 to 4 years before the truly big projects take root, and the technology is planned to be licensed out to commercial enterprises, of which Tesla may for one be very interested. Making the 3D printing no longer reliant on the Earth’s resources is another step on the road to the self-sufficiency of space. The raw materials that can be found in space, from asteroids to the surfaces of moons and planets are being explored as resources to be used for 3D printing, with the end goal of not just removing reliance on Earth, but even allowing for the construction of things that are impossible with only materials from the Earth’s environment.

Image credit to Made In Space

Virgin Galactic Prepares to Launch SpaceShipTwo

Richard Branson has announced that Virgin is soon set to launch the latest version of its SpaceShipTwo, the result of 700 engineers working “day and night,” Branson told UK TV show Good Morning Britain (via Wired).

The last iteration of SpaceShipTwo fell victim to an unfortunate explosion 18 months ago, which killed its pilot. The accident, which occurred in October 2014 at 45,000ft above the Mojave Desert, California, took the life of test pilot Mike Alsbury and seriously injured co-pilot Peter Siebold. “We’re nearly back on track and hopefully it’ll be seen as an historic day in the years to come,” Branson said.

SpaceShipTwo marks a renewed attempt by Virgin Galactic to conduct commercial flights into space. A seat on the orbital spacecraft is estimated to cost around $250,000.

“It’s not that dissimilar to when airline travel started in the 1920s. Initially, people were paying the equivalent of the kind of prices people are paying on Virgin Galactic. Over the years the prices come down dramatically,” Branson told ABC News.

Virgin Galactic has not yet revealed when it intends to make its first commercial spaceflight, though Branson references a decade-long strategy. “I’m not being drawn on specific dates, I’ve made that mistake before,” Branson added during Good Morning Britain. “Today is the unveiling, the test program then starts over the next 12 months and we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully we’re near the end of a ten-year program to get us this far.”

Aerospace Scientists Says Goodbye to Philae Lander

The German scientists behind the intrepid Rosetta space mission have given up hope of re-establishing communications with its Philae lander. The probe, which landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, has been silent since July 2015, and the team from the German Aerospace Center are now pessimistic that it will be able to wake it up.

“Unfortunately, the probability of Philae re-establishing contact with our team at the DLR Lander Control Center is almost zero, and we will no longer be sending any commands,” Stephan Ulamec, Philae Project Manager of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), said in a statement. “It would be very surprising if we received a signal now.”

While DLR has ceased any further attempts to communicate with Philae, the Rosetta mothercraft will continue to orbit 67P until September. So, if the little lander does wake up in the next seven months, Rosetta will still be listening:

The Rosetta space mission was overseen by the European Space Agency (ESA), with help from NASA. Rosetta chased 67P across our solar system for ten years, eventually rendezvousing with the comet in August 2014. Philae was launched at the comet on 12th November, 2014, and, despite its harpoon system failing, the probe successfully landed on its surface.

“The Philae mission was one-of-a-kind – it was not only the first time that a lander was ever placed on a comet’s surface, but we also received fascinating data,” Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board and a participating scientist on the mission, added. “Rosetta and Philae have shown how aerospace research can expand humankind’s horizon and make the public a part of what we do.”

Einstein’s Theory Confirmed as First Gravitational Waves Detected

 

100 years after their existence was predicted by eminent physicist Albert Einstein, a team of scientists have detected the existence of gravitational waves. On 14th September, 2015, the two Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatories (LIGO), one in Linvingston, Louisiana, and the other in Hanford, Washington – both in the US – observed signals emitted during the merging of two black holes. Those signals have now been confirmed to be gravitational waves, the team from LIGO reports.

“Our observation of gravitational waves accomplishes an ambitious goal set out over 5 decades ago to directly detect this elusive phenomenon and better understand the universe, and, fittingly, fulfills Einstein’s legacy on the 100th anniversary of his general theory of relativity,” David H. Reitze, Executive Director of the LIGO Laboratory and Caltech resident, said.

The discovery was made following a major upgrade of the Advanced LIGO detectors which increased it sensitivity, allowing the equipment to detect the gravitational waves on its first attempt.

“In 1992, when LIGO’s initial funding was approved, it represented the biggest investment the NSF had ever made,” France Córdova, Director of the National Science Foundation, said. “It was a big risk. But the National Science Foundation is the agency that takes these kinds of risks. We support fundamental science and engineering at a point in the road to discovery where that path is anything but clear. We fund trailblazers. It’s why the U.S. continues to be a global leader in advancing knowledge.”

Image courtesy of Space.com.

China Releases True Colour HD Photos of the Moon

The China National Space Administration has released a series of beautiful images from its recent moon mission. The photos – all true colour and high definition, taken by the Chang’e 3 lunar lander and Yutu rover in 2013 – are available for download from the Chinese Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration website. While the Chinese site is a tad unstable, thankfully Senior Editor and planetary evangelist Emily Lakdawalla grabbed some of the highlights and is hosting them on the Lunar Society blog.

China’s Chang’e 3 mission – named for the Goddess of the Moon in Chinese mythology – was the first soft moon landing for 37 years, the first since Russia’s Luna 24 mission in 1976. The Yutu rover, nicknamed the “Jade Rabbit” then explored and photographed the lunar surface with its HD camera, radar, x-ray, and infrared spectrometers.

The results from the Chang’e 3 mission suggested that lunar surface is more diverse than previously thought.

After a year of exposure to lunar conditions, Yutu was left frozen, unable to fully mobilise, and yet was still able to collect data and images, and beam them back to China, until March 2015.

An image from NASA (courtesy of TechCrunch) shows where the Chang’e 3 lunar lander touched down on the surface of the moon:

 

Breathtaking Images From an Astronaut Aboard the ISS

Space has always provided a glimpse into many a fascinating world over the years, from research that has been undertaken by NASA to the Astronauts who have boarded the International Space Station as well as successfully landing on the moon. One such Astronaut, Scott Kelly, has been posting breathtaking images on social media that have included Twitter (1,158 photos and counting) and Instagram (684 posts and counting) during his yearlong visit to the ISS, below is a snapshot of these images.

The first image represents the massive blizzard passing over Chicago on Saturday 23rd January 2016, the image looks awe-inspiring.

The next image below is of what is known as “thundersnow” from the blizzard and was captured, again, on the 23rd January 2016.

The next image below, wow, is of an aurora and was captured on the 27th August 2015, this looks akin to a science fiction film.

The next image below is of Spain, well, more specifically Barcelona and was captured on the 28th July 2015, this is both a stunning and a detailed image.

The next image below is the Astronauts latest Twitter post as of writing (26th January 2016) and has the caption “Day 304. That’s 4,864 orbits a’round’ our beautiful planet #Earth. #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace”, it is certainly a brilliant image.

The last image is of Scott Kelly undertaking a Q&A on Reddit from space, well, yes, as you do, this image was posted on the 23rd January 2016

Fancy Building a Life-Size Millennium Falcon?

Just when you think you’re free from Star Wars it drags you back in! After a long break, the Force Awakens came out and fans have been excited since. With news that the next film is delayed, what else could fans do but build a life-Size Millennium Falcon?

The US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville wanted to do just that. Why would you settle for just seeing it on the screen when you can sit in a replica cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Based off the version seen in “The Empire Strikes Back”, the entire display weighs over a thousand pounds (that’s around 454 kilograms).

https://youtu.be/kXrvYRfFiAU

With around 300 volunteers from around the world, tasks are separated so that if you can be there to help build it or if you are at your computer designing that little lever to jump to hyperspace, you can help.

The project is not cheap, with aircraft ejection seats being used to replicate the seats for the interstellar seat. This would be fine if it didn’t cost $20,000 a seat (that’s just for the used ones as well)!

In order to avoid legal issues with Disney the project is self-funded with volunteers and donations of materials and other items. If you’ve ever grown up and wanted to experience what it was like to live in a movie, this is the closest you may get to it.

Russia Has Plans to Nuke Asteroids

We’ve seen the movies. I’m thinking about the one with Bruce Willis in, the asteroid hurtling towards earth and a timer that just won’t stop ticking. I am course referring to Armageddon, a film in which an asteroid could end all life on earth. We’ve heard the chances of asteroids hitting the Earth, NASA even has a task force to deal with the issue. What you probably didn’t know is Russia has a plan for when the asteroids come knocking; nuke them!

A joint country initiative was set up under the European Commission, titled NEOShield. Each country under the scheme was responsible for researching different ways and methods of preventing asteroids and other NEO’s (Near-Earth Objects) from impacting the planet. Russia’s solution has a simple elegance to it, to nuke it. While it may not be able to destroy an asteroid, the scientists believe that a nuclear blast near to the asteroid would burn up its mass, producing a jet thrust effect that would be used to change the asteroid’s path, avoiding the earth.

The announcement of the research details comes alongside the newly stated goals for the Russian Space program, which wants to develop a “space barrier”. A series of satellites that would detect any object that could present a threat to the planet.

With a follow-up program launched (NEOShield-2), even the slightest threat of an object from outer space crashing into the planet is being taken seriously. If it contains just rock or an Alien being, it looks like the world wants to not only know about it, but also how to stop it.

Are Aliens Building Their Own Starkiller Base?

Back in October, we brought you the story of a curious star which may be displaying evidence of an alien presence. The star, KIC8462852, positioned between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra, was observed through the Kepler Space Telescope exhibiting massive dips in its light output – incomparable to any other star ever observed – with the only logical explanation being that huge foreign bodies were obscuring the star.

While some astronomers argued that the light dips could be caused by passing comets, others claimed that the chances of that were slim, leaving only one other possible explanation: aliens. Now, the comet theory has been debunked, which lends fresh support for some kind of alien presence at KIC8462852.

“The comet-family idea was reasonably put forth as the best of the proposals, even while acknowledging that they all were a poor lot,” Bradley Schaefer, an astronomer from Penn State University, told New Scientist. “But now we have a refutation of the idea, and indeed, of all published ideas.”

Looking at light output data for KIC8462852, spanning from 1890 to 1989, Schaefer was able to determine that the star’s strange light phenomena has been occurring for over 100 years, meaning that passing comets could not have been responsible. According to Schaefer, this “century-long dimming trend requires an estimated 648,000 giant comets (each with 200 km diameter) all orchestrated to pass in front of the star within the last century,” an explanation that is “completely implausible.”

Could it really be aliens? And why would they be blocking light from a sun for over 100 years? One explanation could be that another species is building their equivalent of a Dyson Sphere around the star. A Dyson Sphere – named for famed astrophysicist Freeman Dyson – is a theoretical superstructure that surrounds a star, designed to harness that star’s light and heat to make the artificial shell habitable. Or, for a more contemporary comparison, Starkiller Base, the First Order’s planet-destroying weapon, constructed around a planet and using a star for its power, from Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  A new paper written by Schaefer may support the idea.

“The century-long dimming and the day-long dips are both just extreme ends of a spectrum of timescales for unique dimming events, so by Ockham’s Razor, all this is produced by one physical mechanism,” Shaefer’s paper reads. “This one mechanism does not appear as any isolated catastrophic event in the last century, but rather must be some ongoing process with continuous effects.”

Image courtesy of Danielle Futselaar.

Spacewalk Cut Short Due to Water Found in Helmets

Space can be a scary place, the only thing keeping you alive being a highly advanced suit tethered to a spacecraft or station. When a problem is found in these suits, it risks catastrophe for the astronauts in question. This is why Friday’s ISS spacewalk was cut short by mission control after US astronaut Tim Kopra found water was building up in his helmet. Thankfully, both Tim Kopra and his partner on the spacewalk, British astronaut Tim Peake made it back inside the space station safe and sound.

The water was first discovered by Kopra at 16:56 GMT, just over 4 hours into the 6.5 hour planned spacewalk, at which point mission controllers on the ground decided to terminate the EVA as a precaution. At this point, the two astronauts had already accomplished their primary objective, repairing a faulty power module, and had set about performing secondary tasks. By 17:31, both astronauts were safely back inside the International Space Station.

“I could definitely tell the sides were swollen,” Kopra stated in reference to his helmet’s moisture-absorbing pad. “The first time I noticed it was probably just about the same time that I saw the water start to come down from the top, and it was fairly noticeable. The difference between nominal and what I initially felt was pretty small.”

This isn’t the first time that water has found its way into the helmet of an astronaut on a spacewalk, with a similar case occurring in July 2013, to Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano. In that case, the leak was determined to stem from the space suit’s water-circulating cooling system, which had sprung a leak. Kopra’s issue was far less severe, with less water being present in his helmet. The water in Kopra’s helmet was cold, which would hint at it being from the cooling system, rather than a problem with the drink bag’s bite valve, which is kept at ambient temperature. NASA have ordered those onboard the ISS to take water samples from the helmets of the two astronauts in order to determine the cause of the leak.

Image credit to astronaut Tim Peake

A Look At Time Magazines Selected Space Images Of 2015

Long lasting American magazine “Time” has recently announced a selected list of 55 space images that have captured the imagination of readers and experts alike, below is a look at just a few of these amazing and awe-inspiring pics.

Below is a fantastic image that was captured by The Hubble Space Telescope of the Eagle Nebula “Pillars of Creation”, this was published in January 2015 and it is an incredible image, the detail certainly captures the imagination of space for both budding and also veteran astronomers.   

The image below was captured by the New Horizons spacecraft of Pluto in July 2015, “The New Horizons mission is helping NASA understand worlds at the edge of the solar system by making the first reconnaissance of the dwarf planet Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt – a relic of solar system formation”.   The image is fantastic and conveys a world that has previously been out of reach for explorers.  

Below is an image that was captured of an Orbital ATK Antares rocket which exploded just after launching from Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, on Oct. 28, 2014. The rocket was carrying an unmanned Cygnus spacecraft filled with NASA cargo, this image was finally released in 2015.  The image feels as if it has just been lifted from a blockbuster movie set or a newly released video game, certainly a spectacular image.

This image below is of Astronaut Scott Kelly who re-entered the International Space Station (ISS) after a space walk, as you do, the image is again spectacular and was released in October 2015. 

The final image was released in December 2015 and is of the Vega rocket that was launched with the aim of testing a variety of methods to detect gravitational waves, the image was released in December 2015. The image certainly conveys the power needed to propel a rocket into space.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures Fantastic Sand Dunes Of Mars

Space exploration is a fascinating subject which encompasses a wide selection of avenues which include the search for other life forms to new discoveries both concerning known and also unknown distant plants. NASA has recently released images from the Curiosity Mars rover which show a fantastic selection of images of Sand Dunes from the red planet.

Below is a selection of images of Sand Dunes which have been both snapped and also transmitted back by Curiosity, it conveys an extremely steep surface where “cascading sand has sculpted very different textures”  Researchers are implementing the rover with the aim of examining examples of the Bagnold Dunes, “this is a band of dark sand dunes lining the northwestern flank of Mt. Sharp”. 

The Curiosity rover “conveys the downwind side of a dune at around about 13 feet high within the Bagnold Dunes field on Mars”. Below is an image which really does capture both the steepness and also the varying textures, The mission’s dune-investigation campaign is designed to increase understanding about how “wind moves and sorts grains of sand in an environment with less gravity and much less atmosphere than well-studied dune fields on Earth”

Below is another incredible image, the Curiosity rover has been stationed on Mars since August 2012 and had managed to reach the base of Mount Sharp in 2014. This image was also taken from the “telephoto-lens camera of the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, this reveals fine details of the downwind face of Namib Dune. Sand on this face of the dark dune has cascaded down a slope of about 26 to 28 degrees”.

 

It’s certainly impressive and what space discoveries are all about, it also makes you wonder what else will be found within the near future, perhaps there really is life on Mars, if not, the advancement within this area of tech will make it a possibility of deeper and more detailed space exploration.